He lay on his bed of arrows, fashioned very kindly by one of his grandsons, the so-called best archer in the world. He was tired. Of this mortal life. Of all the burdens that he had borne. It had not been a pleasant few days. Then again, he supposed a curse would have to play out like this. But it would soon be over. This pain. This suffering. And the mental agony. But for that he would have to wait it out a while longer.
He couldn’t wait to get back to his world. The realm of Vaikuntha. The world where he was Prabhasa – one of the eight Vasus. Slated to live out his life as a mortal, for the transgression of trying to steal the divine cow, Nandhini, for his wife. In retrospect, he figured it could have been much worse. His brothers were luckier. They were released from the mortal life, as soon as they were born for having been just co-conspirators in the offence. Him on the other hand, he had to live this out.
Gifted man, he was. He who could remember all his previous lives. He who was given a boon by his father that he could choose when he wanted death to embrace him. A boon that he did not know to label whether as a curse or a blessing. And so he waited. Until Uttarayana. Until the glorious Sun turned his journey northward. The most auspicious time.
And while he waited he remembered his lives. This mortal life especially.
In this life, he was Devavrata. The eighth-born son of King Shantanu and Goddess Ganga. His was a very colourful childhood. Brought up amongst the residents of the river of which his mother was reigning sovereign, he was taught very many things by its varied inhabitants. By the time he grew into a strapping young man, he was aware of much more than others his age. He understood the language of the flora and fauna that surrounded them, he had his own way of communicating with his mother, the river-goddess and he was admired as one of the most knowledgeable and level headed lads around. He was initiated under Bhargava Parashurama, for training in weaponry and combat of war. And then, he was introduced to his father. The father for whose happiness, he took upon a vow of lifelong celibacy. The father who bestowed upon him, the boon of choosing his time of death.
[Pic Couresty: http://molee.deviantart.com/]
The shocking vow that he undertook earned him another name – Bhishma, He of the terrible oath. This was the name that the world knew him as, though more often he was affectionately revered as Bhishma Pitamah. Pledged to serve the ruling king of the dynasty that he was a part of, he had lived a long life. The kingdom had flourished under his administration, but the cracks in the family legacy deeply left their scars. Some had healed. While the others had just faded away because nothing could be done about them. However, there was one that had been reopened today. At the battlefield. His hour of reckoning.
The fiery outspoken princess of Kashi. The woman whose tenacious gaze had disconcerted him. He could sense in her a wilfulness that he admired. It wouldn’t have been easy. To stand up in the testosterone-filled sabha and speak out her mind. Yet she had done that. And in spite of that, he had abducted her along with her sisters, for his brother. But on the way back, when her stubbornness had abated a bit, she had started telling him about Shalva, the one who had usurped her heart. He had listened, non-committedly, wondering what made such a feisty girl such as herself, fall for someone so conventional. But he hadn’t let the thoughts take root. Instead, with a benevolent gaze and a confused mind, he had helped her onto another chariot and set her on forth to where her heart was trapped. He had thought it would be the last time he set his eyes on her. Only, she had come back, in a state of shock, having been sent away by Shalva, who refused to accept her, citing the fact that he had lost to Bhishma, while trying to rescue her and it still rankled him.
Amba had come back to the Kuru palace and beseeched to him, to give her an answer for her predicament. He had in turn entreated to his brother, who originally was supposed to marry her. His brother, now happy with his two wives (sisters of Amba), had refused as well, insisting that her heart lay elsewhere. Amba had again beheld him with her resolute stare, demanding an answer to the question. He on the other hand had no answers. She then, as a last resort had asked him to break his vow and marry her. So that she may have a little bit of dignity restored. He had refused, stating that he couldn’t break his vow. Not even for her. She had then blamed him. For the situation that she was in. For the situation he had landed her in. But there was no way that he could help her. She stayed on for a while at the Hastinapur palace. He let her be.
However, she had succeeded in making him uneasy. Disturbed even. With her fierceness. With her aggressive nature. With her hatred towards him, the loathing which grew over time. The intensity of which had one day, led to her proclaiming that she would be the reason for his downfall, before she left the palace for places unknown. She had reappeared, once with his master, whom she had begged to fight him. The fight went on for a few days, before master and disciple decided it was to no cause. Her fury had then been unleashed. She had raved and ranted like a mad woman, berating him and then as suddenly as she had appeared, she had left. Some time, later he heard that she had killed herself, in order to be reborn to bring about his ruin.
Over the years, he thought of her sometimes. Without any rhyme or reason. A sentence spoken here, a word heard there, a particular stare felt from a corner. He still felt guilty. But the guilt was reduced by reasoning that he had still kept his vow. But sometimes, just sometimes, he couldn’t help wonder. What it would have been to live with her. His determination and her spirit. His calm nature against her fiery temperament. His toughness versus her resolve. But it wasn’t meant to be.
He had seen her again today. At the battlefield. His hour of reckoning. Phoenix like. Reborn from the ashes.
He was the only one who recognized her. Still the smoldering stare. Still the hatred emanating for ruining her life.
The others only knew about her. They knew her now as Shikhandi. He on the other hand, KNEW her. KNEW what she was. And how she came to be who she was now.
This time, he accepted it, laying down his arms. He was done here. He wanted no more of this life. He did not a see a point in it. So he had let his grand-son shielded by her, pierce him with his arrows. He had seen the accomplishment in her eyes. The cry of triumph, worded silently. She was appeased now. As was he.
No more blame. No more guilt. No more remorse.
And so now he waited.
And while he waited, called upon the thousand names of his redeemer. Sri Vishnu Sahasranama – Bhishmena Kathitha. Vyasena Grathitha.